Saturday, May 8, 2010


Many students who wrote their TOK essay on the title on language considered all sorts of communication as language. But is every mode of communication language? Can we say animals have language? A painting communicates ideas and expresses emotion; is a painting language? What should our definition of language be?


  1. I did not write my essay on language but yes I do believe animals have language...they communicate through their actions and the sounds they make. A painting is however not language because although it communicates ideas and feelings, our interpretations of those feelings could be different (and even different from what the artist intended to achieve). Everyone has their own reactions towards paintings and so it is subjective. But language should be such a way that everyone agrees that this is what this word means...or this is what this sign should be objective. Art is not is based on the creativity of the artist and so two artists could be portraying the same message but their paintings will not be the same. That is my opinion!

  2. I think it would be very astute to first say that the definition of language cannot be clearly delineated.Instead, i believe that language encompasses all that allows the expression/communication of ideas, feelings and so on. Based on the above premise, it would be logical to state that all that Mr Kidane says can de considered language as they all facilitate the expression of ideas or feelings.


  3. Hie

    First of all, language is seen as a way of communication. Communication does not have do be a language, Wikipedia defines language as" system of signs (indices, icons, symbols) for encoding and decoding information. Since language and languages became an object of study (logos) by the ancient grammarians, the term has had many and different definitions"
    Going back to the question, every mode of communication can be a language to a greater extent ( according to the definition of language) For example the Russians used to use codes as a form of communication. They are still used today so codes are a form of communication. But every mode of communication has its own barriers, for instance in humans there are language barriers which heavily affects our communication lives. Every form of communication can be a language as long as the objects involved can understand each other and respond each other. As soon as the objects do not understand each other both physically speaking and mentally then according to what I believe it is not a mode of communication. Such instances occur when humans try to speak to animals.
    Animals on their own have their own languages (I won't use language because there are many types of animals)

    A painting is an art of communication , as Edward Sapir said""Language is an anonymous, collective and unconscious art; the result of the creativity of thousands of generations."A painting vividly communicates ideas and expresses emotions an obvious painting which always evokes emotions of the cruelness of war is the one which was drawn by Vasily Vereshchagin and the painting is named “The Apotheosis of War (1871) this painting shows a pyramid of skeleton heads which represents the numerous number of people who died during the war and how war was portrayed in those days. To a greater extent, paintings are a language of its own only that they are too subjective. Our definition for language should include thoughts and feelings to be expressed

  4. I would be astute to first say that from my point of view, the definition of language cannot be clearly delineated.Instead, i believe that language encompasses all that allows the expression/communication of ideas, feelings and so on. Based on the above premise, it would be logical to conclude that all Mr Kidane mentions, from gesticulating Monkeys to Paintings that express the intended message, are all FORMS of language in one sense or another. In effect, i think my opinion is quite in contrast to what MZ says.


  5. I think a language is any form of sound that can be used and understood by a group of people. let's take babies for instance they make sounds and when it's only them around they make all sorts of sounds and later laugh....but we don't understand the babies because it is meant to be understood by them. I did not write any essay on language because I find language very complicated...animals do have a language....and I don't know about the paintings but I do know that they are a form of communication, I mean some paintings have a message that is important and needs to be understood, for example the painting on world peace. Mostly when we find ourselves in a place where the language spoken is not familiar we turn to using symbols as a form of getting the information understood. So I think in a way paintings can be a form of language.

  6. I wrote the essay on language...but at the beginning, I said that I would look at "formal language", meaning "written language", like english, chinese etc. I did this because that was the form of language that I knew well and the language that I most understood. With this, i hope it is evident that I do think that there are different forms of language. Animals, cats. dogs, whales must have their own way of communicating, and that is their form of language.
    Paintings are not a form of language, although they "communicate with us." As MZ said, everyone can interpret a painting as anything.The point of a language is so that everyone understands what needs to be communicated. So that if I say, "give me a pen," you know that I want you to give me a pen. But if I show you a random painting of a pen,you draw different conclusions: I may be wanting you to buy me a pen like it...or I may be showing you a pen I like..etc.
    The thing about paintings that make them seem as though they are a "langauge" is that certain symbols usually communicate the same things...for example,a dove often means peace. White means peace, or surrender, black often means sorrow, or evil etc. These may mean the same thing..BUT again, the thing about paintings is that as it is sooo varied and random, anyone can decide to paint a dove and yet, may not intend for it to mean "peace." Therefore, paintings do not serve as a language in these respects.

  7. this is interesting because i have never thought of an exact definition of language...only that it is simply a means of communication. so i believe like Deborah said there is "formal" language..that is written language and perhaps informal language like that of the dogs. and also, we often hear of "body language" and its name already suggests that it is a kind of language.
    A painting, however cannot be described as lanaguage,that is from my point of view. it does evoke certain emotions in us but i dont think it can be termed as language. i do agree though, that the definition of language must be looked at again because the ambiguity of language sets in here again.

  8. Animals have their own language because they communicate through their actions and sounds they make as Mina stated earlier. Not every mode of communication is language though to greater extent I think it is. Paintings are forms of communication but not necessarily a language. I believe all painters carry different ideas in their paintings however individual interpretations differ thus can't be a language to a greater extent. I don't think there should be defined meaning for language but if the need be why not? The icons and images used in paintings can however convey similar messages thus can be language in that perspective. In the cases where colours are used their interpretations might differ as they may have different symbols in different cultures. i don't fully agree with Mina that words etc should be universal to be a language because different cultures view things differently. For animals yeah they have their language!!!!

  9. Deborah, you say animals have a way of communicating. Is it the different species that communicate together and understand each other within themselves for example a cat and a dog communicating?

  10. Yes. I can say for certain that animals have language. For paintings, yes they carry a message but not as defined and conventional. For paintings, the meaning may vary with quality but then again, not veryone can interpreted it. For a particular group of people to use a language everyone in the group should have some knowledge about it in order to communicate. There must also be some uniformity however in my opinion there would be so much more work if we were to use paintings as a language. There is the time factor, the skill factor, the quality factor and the interpretation factor. However I don’t think we could define language to with encountering loopholes in its definition.

  11. Aren’t we oversimplifying things if we just say, ‘humans have language, dogs too have language?’ A guy named Steven Pinker said, ‘language is a magnificent ability unique to Homo sapiens among living species.’ Now what do you make of that?

  12. I agree with Mr Kidane, we are over simplifying things if we just say humans have a language, dogs too have a language. Just because we human beings see dogs barking with each other or birds "singing" we assume that it is a language.

  13. I just had to clarify something.
    Cynthia said:"Deborah, you say animals have a way of communicating. Is it the different species that communicate together and understand each other within themselves for example a cat and a dog communicating?"
    Well, we don't exactly have a common language with chimpanzee's and giraffes so I don't see why you are talking about cats and dogs communicating. I am not saying that it is impossible, though highly unlikely. Deborah just said they have "their own way of communicating" and nothing to effect that the communication is across species i.e. cats and dogs could communicating.

  14. I personally think all the definitions we have given to language limit its functions.Language is useful beyond the functions we have given to it.Animals surely have a language.for example for reproduction to occur in lizards or frogs,the males have to produce different sounds to attract females.Also,dogs have their ways of barking when playing,when fighting and even when mourning or crying.Human beings may not understand what they are trying to communicate,but can notice what is happening with a keen attention.In human beings too,we don't always need to verbally express what we feel or make signs for people to have at least a fair idea of what we think or feel.Sometimes,all we need is a keen observation.For example,when someone is deeply hurt or dissapointed or even very happy.Wether it is fake or not,it is a message about the person being conveyed because the person could also lie if he/she is asked how exactly he/she feels.As far as art pieces are concerned,they also express things that we may fail to understand,but it still does not cancel the fact that it is a message someone was trying to send across, and that is his/her language.So in short,language should be any form of self expression,provided people are able to decode something from it,irrespective of whether people understand it the way it is supposed to be or not.

  15. Good point Claire.D. But is human language in any way different from the other forms of communications mentioned, or is it similar? As someone said can a dog say, 'my father was an honest dog, though poor?' Can a dog talk about the past the present, the future? About the imaginary? Does a dog's language grow in vocabulary (barking) or remains the same for thousands of years because it is instinctive ability rather than something acquired in life?

  16. Hi everyone,

    Are some of you claiming that any kind of self-expression, any kind of message, any kind of communication equals "language"?

    I suppose it's a free world, so to speak, but the problem with such a conception of language is that it is so tolerant, so liberal, so inclusive that there is nothing much more we can say about it.

    It is a similar situation with "culture". If I ask "what is culture?" and someone replies "it is the way we behave, how we think, how we dress, our gestures and greetings, how we treat each other, our language, our way of life, etc.", we will once again struggle to move forward. "Culture is... well, everything...", people say, waving their arms around to emphasize the vast amorphous concept!

    In TOK and elsewhere, we need to make clear distinctions such that they can form the basis for sharp analysis. Do you think that a dog, for example, is capable of using its "voice" to replicate the functions and features that have been identified for human language? I won't lay them out here because they have been discussed in class and you can look up your notes.

    So I'm not saying that any of the comments here are wrong; rather I'm saying that unless we sharpen our distinctions it becomes very hard for any of us to do the kind of thinking which is required. Required for TOK, but also required for the kind of clear thinking that is needed in the world.

    This is partly why sometimes the more challenging TOK essay titles appear on the surface to be the easiest - they include concepts that seem to allow much to be said, but if they are treated as including too much they make little progress possible.

    Even if you think I'm wrong somehow about kanguage, I sincerely hope you will take on baord the point I am making here.

  17. Oops - I think Mr. Kidane (and his dog!) just got there before me and mine! I didn't see his post.

  18. I think language is the medium through which we can communicate in, so animals do actually have a language, which would be barking or squeaking or singing or even dancing (for some birds) . With paintings, the artists turn their paint brushes into tools to send their ideas, and critics of the painting, due to the subjective nature of arts, will interpret it however they can, and the painting, being a form of language in symbols. So i would say that the painting is actually a form of language and thus our definition of language should be any medium of communication of any ideas

  19. Like Deborah, i also wrote the essay on language. At the beginning i wanted to define it in my own words however it was simply impossible to avoid the word communication. To me language is simply a way of communication nothing more, nothing less. Due to this i believe that animals have their own language and they do not have to be of the same species to send messages to one another (they may use body language). But i find Mr Kidane's question about dogs being able to use the displacement function of language very difficult to answer because there is the problem of sense perception during observation. It is impossible answer the question because to know how the dog uses language one has be a dog. And when it comes to paintings, i think they are also a form of language however most of the time they have many interpretations thereby making them a subjective kind of language. Fortunately, we also have very simple paintings which have conventional meanings and can thereby be readily accepted as language. The interesting thing is that currently it is not compulsory that we understand every painting. Most paintings are just for appreciation and decoration anyway.


  20. Thank you Shawn for the clarification. But are we not over simplifying things again if we just say animals have a way of communication. What is this way of communication and how do we know they communicate at all. By their gestures? By the type of movements and the sounds they make ? I am not really convinced that they communicate at all I honestly think they just know what to do mechanically. I know its funny but....

  21. Hi Everyone,

    Since I wrote my last contribution, there have been two more posts on this thread:

    Teye: "I think language is the medium through which we can communicate..."

    How about: "A" medium, not "THE" medium?

    Lianne: "To me language is simply a way of communication nothing more, nothing less..."

    I think this is the same claim as I addressed above.

    We have suggested in class that human language is an arbitrary (no necessary connection between symbol and target) conventional (members of a language community must agree in order to understand each other) symbolic (cf iconic) system that allows participants to communicate about the present, past and future and the imaginary or impossible (displacement, including information ("the cat is on the mat") and feelings ("I feel angry"), and instruct others as to actions ("shut the door"), bring new situations into existence ("I bless/curse you"), and lubricate social situations ("how are you?"). in addition, natural language may be crucial for our ability to think in certain ways, meaning that language may be essential for thought, not solely about communication.

    "Woof, woof!" How many of these concepts does this canine utterance meet?

    This is not "the definition" - I don't want to pre-empt the question at the start of this thread; but it is a summary based upon some of the concepts we discussed in class.

    I think we need to try to apply at least some of these concepts to the issue. This is a discussion course, but one that must take recognition of concepts introduced along the way.

  22. Hey guys…..
    I did the same language for the assignement and I actually agree with those that say animals have a language because language is in many forms. Looking Timah’s point that paintings are a form of communication and not necessarily language. This however got me thinking what Language really is ? I will be so grateful if someone gives me a good definition of what language is and maybe what communication is too.
    Language however is a medium through which we communicate and my reason for this is the fact that they are different of forms that we use in language in order to communicate

  23. well first of all talking about language and what it is,is a controversial issue but i personally think that language should be defined as a way of communicating between the different species.This is because i can communicate with a dog or horse and it will be able to understand.Talking about paintings as a language i would agree with the notion that it is indeed a language because it is a way the painter communicates with us the observers.the different ways we may interpret the painting is what does not fall under language it is just our opinion.

  24. Yasmin Evans-TotoeMay 10, 2010 at 8:19 AM

    I want to comment on the question of a painting being a language. I think before you answer this question you need to take into consideration certain features of language such as it is universal, semantic, arbitrary, etc. As people have said, interpreting a painting is subjective and i think this rules it out as a language as it is not universal. Also every artist communicates with a viewer in his or her own unique style. That is to say, one stoke of a brush by one artist does not connote the same message by another. Hence, in my opinion,a painting is not a language as basic yet important features of a language do not apply to it. It is neither conventional or universal for example.

  25. After reading all the comments posted here i am forced to agree that animals have language. looking at a lioness and its cubs for instance, if the lioness is going hunting it makes a certain sound which we cannot tell but from the responses of the cubs we see that is is telling them to remain behind. in this way we can proove that animals have language .just because we cannot umderstand their language we cannot say that they dont have their way of communication. looking it from the area of knowledge of art, we see that the artist tries to invoke his emotions and feelings in us through the drawings that he/she draws. however, the meaning of the drawing might differ from people to people and since we look at things from different views unless the artist tells us what he was drawing it is difficult to get the exact message.

    Also looking at Mr.Kidane's question "Can a dog talk about the present the past and the future?". i think they can recall the past but i dont know yet if they can talk on it. looking at an isntance where a dog hides a bone and goes for it after some days shows that it has language which also by the help of its sensitive smell will be able to locate where it hid the bone. it sis intresting to see that dogs understand our language when we give them instructions like fetch, sit and lie among others but its difficult for us to understand their language.

  26. Personally, languages means any form of communication whether it is through sounds,symbols and signs.However, it is the agreement of what these type of communications actually mean to people.Language is in a sense subjective and objective.Subjective because every culture has their own specific language howevr objective at the same time as , we as humans have the ability to learn other languages.We are able to break down language barriers .Now, referring to a painting as a form of language is something I agree with.The art of paintings is that the colours astists choose are symbolic e.g white represents purity.These colours speak to you they have a hidden message however the problem here is whether white is linked with purity only .The style of painting,can also suggests a certain message the painter is trying to portray however, as humans we always will find conflict between ourselves and find soemthing to argue about!

  27. To me a language is a systematic means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols. Language IS formal. One of the features of language is communication, so yes, languages must involve communication but all communication is definitely NOT language!
    I agree with everyone here who said that animals communicate with each other. BUT I DO NOT THINK THAT IT NECESSARILY MEANS THEY HAVE A LANGUAGE. Sure dogs can bark at each other as a form of ‘greeting’ and cats can purr when you stroke them to show appreciation, but I don’t think that’s language! I had cats at home and I could communicate with them! I snapped my fingers or made kissy noises with my lips when I wanted to call them and they’d understand me. They’d come. But that does not make what I did language, it was simply COMMUNICATION. Aside from communication, languages should also perform certain other functions such as expression of emotions, giving instruction, persuasion and stating facts (remember these from last sem?)
    Now back to my definition; I would like to draw your attention to the word ‘systematic’ which means ‘characterized by order and planning’. Think about all the human languages that you know of: English, Braille etc. One of the things these have in common is order! It takes a specific combination of specific sounds or symbols to convey a particular idea. How many animals do you know that can plan their response? Do they have different expressions for different things? How much preparation goes into ‘woof woof?’ And the second issue is conventionality. Is it possible for animals to have a conventional meaning for different things with such limited vocabulary? Sorry to keep using dogs but do they even have enough different types of barks and enough intonations for there to even be different meanings for each one? I don’t think so! So how then do they have language?
    And about painting. I wrote my essay on language as well and initially I cited the example of a dove meaning peace as evidence of language in art but then I reconsidered. The dove communicates the idea of peace but it is not necessarily through language that it does so. Like Mina said, art is too subjective, different painters represent different ideas differently and we all have our unique ways of interpreting art. Therefore there is nothing systematic about it. It cannot be language.
    To conclude, I think the defining quality of language for me has to do with this word ‘systematic’. Language does not just happen like that, to an extent it has to be intentional and it has to have some structure, some order, and some rules. So animals though they communicate do not have language because they lack structure and neither does painting because it lacks rules.

  28. does language have to be expressed in speech as in produce sound? i guess not cause if it was then what about sign language for the deaf and dumb. As Evans Totoe said language has to be far as a language is conventional to the people who speak it and is used as a form of communication you cannot say it is not a language. also the fact that you do not understand a particular form of communication does not mean it is not a language. this would be like saying for instance i donot understand Twi then it is not a language. so this mean that animals also have a language that they use to communicate which is conventional to them and just because we do not understand it it doesnot mean that it is not a language. however art defies the rules of language as it is not conventional .it is very open to many interpretations and hence art is not a language. but there are a few exception to this since a painting of a flag of a particular country will have a simillar interpretation since it's meaning is fixed eg a painting of a Kenyan,Ghanian flag will have the same message the only subjective thing is the reason behind the drawing which is subjective and known onlyt to the reader. therefore although painting is not a language it can be conventional to some extent.

  29. The word "language" derives from the latin word "lingua."
    "Language, Tongue." If language conprises of only the "tongue", humans have tongues, animals have tongues. However, do paintings have tongues? no.

    That is why there is WRITTEN LANGUAGE.
    paintings can be alsmost described as a written form of language. Unlike written words or symbols where you can directly interpret, paintings require interpretation concerning one's perception. Unless one is told about an art piece, interpretation is made purely using the observer's perception. Thus, though we may consider art paintings also as a form of language, it has a limit, or should I say disadvantage.

    I believe that language is any form of spoken words or sounds, written or scribbled symbols or geometric shapes which could convey a message or idea to other individuals.

    We humans can use language in different ways. Past, present, future. That is our advantage.

    i believe animals like dogs, use language as well but in a much limited or perhaps in a totally different way from humans which we may not have found out yet because we simply can't.

    Thus, in my opinion, lanugage is everything that could convey a message or an idea... EVERYTHING.

  30. Language is a means of communication and in TOK class we are made aware that one of the features of language is ambiguity which means that paintings can be a form of language. Because of the extreme ambiguity of the painting it has been disregarded as a language however i think paintings are language because they communicate ideas and express emotion. Also animals and babies have language amongst themselves and languages that they express to us humans. Animals do not express themselves to us in speech however they do so with their bodies. Body language is also a way of expressing ideas and emotion. So we are able to tell if a dog is angry or happy through their body language.

  31. In my opinion every way of communication is a language. my definition of language is a means by which individuals convey ideas, emotion, information as well as opinion. a dog may not be able to say 'my father was an honest dog, though poor' but he still may be able to comunicate its emotion. for example a dog would howl if it is alone or is in the presence of a bitch who is on heat. it might cry indicating pain or bark showing joy or indicating an aggresive attitude.

  32. According to Dz.Toni Baek “(The word "language" derives from the latin word "lingua."
    "Language, Tongue." If language conprises of only the "tongue", humans have tongues, animals have tongues.)” What about the crocodiles, do they have a ‘tongue’? I don’t think so, but how do they communicate?
    “Crocodilians are the most vocal of all reptiles, and calls vary widely depending on species, age, size and sex. Context is also very important, and some species can communicate over 20 different kinds of messages through sound alone. But just what are they saying?” which I think interms of understanding is above us.
    I think that all animals have a way communicating between each other which I refer to it as language, e.g., Crocodile use sound that can only be identified by them to communicate to one another, so they use sound as a form of language to communicate to another

  33. I agree largely with Nnnena. Formality, order and structure are inherent in the very definition of language.

    It is mportant that the distinction is made between language and communication. While almost anything can comprise communication, language is a more delicate matter.

    language is arbitary. From this, it follows that language must have some kind of formality otherwise we cannot communicate effectively.

    Consider a baby. if a baby cries does it mean that it is hungry, or sleepy? How do you tell.? You can't tell just by the sounds because the baby is not speaking a "language". It is attempting to communicate certaintly but this cannot be called "language".
    It has to be placed in the context of a formal system of communication to be called a language.

  34. Personally, language means any form of communication whether it is through sounds,symbols and signs.However, it is the agreement of what these type of communications actually mean to people.Language is in a sense subjective and objective.Subjective because every culture has their own specific language however objective at the same time as , we as humans have the ability to learn other languages.We are able to break down language barriers .Now, referring to a painting as a form of language is something I agree with.The art of paintings is that the colors artists choose are symbolic e.g white represents purity.These colors speak to you they have a hidden message however the problem here is whether white is linked with purity only .The style of painting,can also suggests a certain message the painter is trying to portray however, as humans we always will find conflict between ourselves and find something to argue about!

  35. Initially I wasn’t going to comment on this topic because controversies on language are never-ending. As Mr. Kidane & Kitching are saying, we’ll never really get answers to our problematisations of language as a way of knowing, if we don’t sharpen its definition. This is why I avoided the question on language for my TOK Essay, because try as I might to come through with a solid definition, it was always too accommodating – what’s the distinction between “language” and other forms of “communication”? I have no solution to this, but Lianne said something in her post which made me rethink…she said “I couldn’t avoid the word communicate!” Perhaps the main problem with defining language is that, words are so “ubiquitous” that “language” must define itself. This is even made more complicated with concepts such as “body language”, “telepathy”, etc. I remember having a debate with Kwame K once, about whether music was a language. The long and short is…he was right…Music, Art, body language, “telepathy?” and the likes, are NOT language. They are mere means of self-expression, which can be interpreted as the receiver pleases, hence they do not classify as languages. Paintings, and body language just evoke certain feelings…they “say” nothing. I am not saying that something has to be heard before it’s a language but they may not “communicate” what is intended…except what you want to “interpret” it as! I hate to use this idiomatic cliché but, these “communicative” forms may “put words in the expressionist’s own mouth.” Consequently, one can never tell whether the message received from a “painting” or “body language” was what was intended to be communicated! As for animals having language…I’m sorry Mr. Kitching and Kidane but I have to take the simple road and agree with Lianne when she says: “We cannot ever know, unless we’re really the same species”. I find it anthropocentric when Steven Pinker concludes that it is a “magnificent ability for homosapiens”! How can he know???

  36. Language is a means of communication which makes use of signals such as symbols and expressions. It is a way of communication which envelopes it’s speakers in a glow of belonging and common perception, however, it is also a source of exclusion, misunderstanding and conflict as much as it helps in communication. Art is a lanuage as it incoperates symbols and plain words to express certain ideas . language encompasses a wde range of modes of communication. l would beg to differ l beleive that the way animals communicate is not language as it does not express , describe or explain it only is like historical claims without evidence. when modified a language should still express the same idea as it carried or the emotion it meant to express for example but this is not the case with animals , compared to human languge which can change with time or evoulution and still hold the same meaning it had when it was in another form. a language must be neccesary to our survival , which animal communication does not posses hance it is not a language. taking sign languge into consideration it indicates that a language does not neccesarily have to be vocal but should have some meaning attached or should evoke a certain idea. However, we do not typically identify the forms of expression present in other areas of knowledge as languages

  37. Wow..Okay. To Mr. Kidani, Mr. Kitching and Nnenna.
    I have to reconsider when I said that once animals could communicate, they had language. I agree, that not ALL communication is language.
    HOWEVER, to Nnenna and Mr. Kitching, how would you understand the basic "woof woof" of a dog's bark? I am not saying that it is langauge, but I have to agree with Lianne and Metty when thay say that you will never know.
    The problem with language is that WE have defined it...and so we can only interpret it through the things we understand. We can only try to identify "language" through what we are familiar with. Like Nnenna said, it is SYSTEMATIC. Created like a system, by us, no?
    So in the same way as I was wrong to suggest that animals have their own language just because they seem to communicate, I think that in the same way, it is wrong to suggest that the don't have a language, just because it is beyond our comprehension and beyond our reach.
    So, in answering the question about animals having their own language, I think that for the fact that humans are the ones who formed their language, they cannot decide the answer to this. Or if they do, they must understand that it is based on their criteria, and so it may not necessarily be true for animals.

  38. As some have previously stated, language is indeed a medium, through ideas, thoughts and concepts are communicated. In short, language greatly involves COMMUNICATION. However,in order for any form of communication to be classified as language, it must be conventional and universally accepted, understood and adhered to by a specific clan of species. Based on this premise, we could conclude that animals have language, although humans may never comprehend the extent to which their communication serves as language. BUT a painting is obviously not a language. Many have raised the issue of its subjective nature, and i completely agree with that stance. Despite a painting's ability to communicate ideas, it is subject to varying interpretations, and this doesn't fall in tandem with the conventional and objective features of language. A true language consists of objective principles, rules and guidelines, that are manipulated to express subjective pieces of information.

  39. To: James Mburu

    The example of the "tongue" was just a point I mentioned before I drew up to the conclusion.

    Language " is everything that could convey a message or an idea... EVERYTHING "

    You could look at the rest of the comments CAREFULLY to fully understand my point.

    THank you

  40. To: James Mburu

    My comment on language about the idea of "tongue" was just to help generate my idea. I NEVER concluded my comment by saying that all living things without tongues do not use language.

    I defined language in my own words as "lanugage is everything that could convey a message or an idea... EVERYTHING"

    Thus, I hope that JAMES MBURU will KINDLY and CAREFULLY read all of my comments before concluding any points.

    Thank you

  41. I kind of agree with Debbie when she talks about the language in animals “it is SYSTEMATIC. Created like a system, by us, no?" but on the other hand like Primrose said on the “Do Chimpanzees get hurt” blog about hitting a dog, dogs are said to feel pain because of the sorry sound they make and the way they react to dangerous situations . Is that too systematic? Should we assume that dogs feel pain because we humans feel pain? Or is it that our background knowledge forces us to judge like we do? I think sometimes there is a danger that we humans apply our feelings to suit what we think is best.

  42. Well... about the definition of language I should admit that it depends on however you define language because there are several different ways in which language could be defined. In terms of defining language as use of sign and sounds which are understood by a group of individuals, I stand on the side that animals must have their own language. Sometimes when I walk by the roadside or very early in the morning when I'm asleep, I get to hear one cock crow and another responds by crowing back, and most of the time this happens I begin to wonder what could be meaning of the crowing together with the crowing back of another cock. I strongly believe the crowing must be a message that these chickens are always trying to pass on to one another. However, we can say that animals do not have their own language if we are to define language as the use of words which are agreed upon and understood by a group of individuals.

  43. I agree with Mr. Kitching when he says language is A medium through which we communicate, and talking about communication I mean expressing feelings/emotions, sharing thoughts , ideas and what not. Let’s take this example, I’m a person right, full of these emotions, thoughts… and I can convey all these to another party using the ‘language tool’. Language could either be verbal or by action (body language or sign language) and as you might have noticed both ways are require some form of movement. So in that case a painting lying around cannot talk or move , why because it is inanimate but the message is still there waiting for the art lover/critic to make meaning out of it or try to interpret it in his/her own way. I will say paintings are a passive sort of communication because it is up to the other party to extract the information. Language on the other hand is active communication because person in question uses it as a way to send the message across to another person- there’s a huge difference!
    I hope I made sense! 

  44. I think most modes of communication arelanguage. The type of communication however, will help us conclude what type of language wants to be conveyed. From the question at hand, the definition of language can be described as a means of communication either verbally or physically. Physically in terms of the fact that there can be sign language. I feel that art can be a medium of communication of emotions or ideas. So therefore, art can be described as a mode of communication with language.
    Animals do have a language, but the means of communication is much more different than the usual way we know about. If we take dolphins or whales as an example, their way of communication is through clicking noises which can be interpreted by themselves. They also use whistling noises transmitted at different wavelengths as a way of communicating with each other. It is their own language.
    From this it can be said that communication is different when it comes to the different animals or human beings interpreting it, however this does not mean that every mode of communication can be a language...such like art.

  45. personally i think many of us see language as a minor influence to our lives...for example universally something like beauty is defined as characteristic of a person, animal, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure, meaning, or satisfaction in wikipedia but then look at it this way this is the universall way of defining language but then we as humans even differ in terms of the way we look at something as beauty what i may see beautiful is not really something that someone may see as beauty so then language is really diverse look we say dogs "bark" but then is that the language dogs speak or persay communicate with it others and do these animals in their own way say "humans talk" and so i think it is true that every single living being (yes including plants) have their own way of communicating in terms of language and every subject area too.

  46. According to the encarta dictionary, animals do have language!!! however it was grouped into, nonverbal communication between animals. as we all know language is a tool used for communication. and so if a dog barks violently a human will know that there may be danger ahead. therefore the dog has communicated to humans using his own language. however i do agree that we as homo sepians are of a higher rank than animals. this is because with the language we have we can make meaningful decisions and conversations within ourselves while other animals cannot.
    Art is made up of colours, shapes and shades. Different colours signify different things. For example red= danger/ blood/ passion/ stop. Yellow= wait, happy etc. Colour also has a sense of ambiguity because a colour can mean different things to different people for example to someone white can mean pure and clean, while to another white can mean empty and boring. Paintings also express feelings and can be used to communicate with people. to me a painting is language just how a sign board notifying drivers to stop is language.

  47. i think that the basic defnition of language is that, it is a form of communication. For humans, it involves the use of spoken or written words. This will therefore go on to say that animals also communicate among themselves through the use of language. Hence, i will say that animals also have their own language because we humans are scientifically defined as animals. As to the problem of defining all forms of communication as language, i can't say but i think that the definition of language itself is clear to all. The interpretation can be different depending on the individual and therefore that may be the problem people have in defining language.


  48. i couldnt read the whole thread of messages . However, i think language is an agreed set of rules that are used to communicate. but then how can we explain body language. therefore ithink this is very tricky, however yes paintings and animals speak a language. maybe be this is not agreed on as humans have agreed on the english language . bbut i think if we are able to understand what paintings represent then how else did we understand but through the colours and the shapes. Perhaps these "rules" in painting are through he type of style the artist choses. eg. red means danger and blue means chill. Also if with animals, a hungry dog who sees a person holding food or another dog holding food starts to bark, theis tells us the dog is hungry, perhaps this is not even the message but to another dog they get what the dog is trying to say. i dont think language is always expressed in words there is sign language where through signs people communicate. most sign languages are not even agreed on. for eg. if i am hungry i put my hand to my mouth. this clearly shows hunger whereas it is not a certified language.

  49. Language,there's a lot i can say when it comes to language (I think it's my favourite TOK concept well aside truth)i agree language is a medium of communication, however, i think it has a lot of restrictions. i wrote my essay on this topic so im going to use some of those points. As much as the english language may be universal it becomes ambigious wen you move into different areas of knowledge. Take the word 'field' for example. Field in everyday spoken english isn't the same field in maths. Communication barrier. Now take the word 'fractal', it is english language and yet it only exists in mathematics. In other words, you can only use it if you are 'speaking maths'. I think most modes of communication can be considered as language, but i think this is only if it restricted to a specific group of people and is coventional and semantic. Speaking words, writing words,singing words these communicate to art students (literature, music). writing equations, these communicate to mathematicians and natural scientists. But i disagree with the visual arts being a language. Language has to be conventional and semantic. If i see a painting a feel sad and Mr. Kitching seems the same painting a feels joy, this in my opinion is miscommunication. We are not given the same idea. Language, i think, should not be subjective. This holds for music as well (not the lyrics.) That is why i said before that not all modes of communication are language. So for me visual arts and music become more of a way of knowing by evoking emotions but not a language.
    With animals, i think they do have a means of communication which may not be language per se. How they communicate though, I don't know.

  50. How about a more poetic conception:

    "Language is the skin of my thought" (Arundhati Roy)

    What aspects of the nature and role of language are captured here?

  51. Yasmin Evans-TotoeMay 14, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    I want to try povide a different point of view to this issue of language in animals. First I would like to say that, since there is no 'clean' definition of a language, the best way to classify something as a language or not, is to relate it to the features of a language.(at least in my opinion)
    For humans, yes we have a language and can associate certain features to it. And yes, it works well for us in classifying something as a language or not.

    In relation to OUR classification of a language, I do not think that animals have a distinctive language. Just as Nnenna said,it seems to be more of a communication rather than a language.

    However, the difficulty here is that no one can transform, into lets say a duck, and communicate with fellow ducks. I do not think you can rule out the fact that there exists something more than mere gestures between animals.

    If you have had a dog, have you ever heard your dog barking then subsequently other dogs in your neighborhood also bark. A lioness for example can sound to her cubs on lurking danger and they; i am hungry for example.

    Basically what I am trying to say is that although our classification of a language does not apply to animals as has been explained further up in the blog, one cannot deny that animal do indeed have a system of communication between species. Possibly, there exists another 'structure' of language in the animal kingdom, with its own rules and features different from ours as human beings.

  52. Yasmin's point of view is quite relational i must say. I would say conclusively that indeed language is any means of communication. Language is not limited to only what we can pronounce and what can be heard. Apart from sign language, which is accepted as a medium of communication and hence called sign "Language",someone may also acknowledge that if you have an intuitive connection, that is,guessing/feeling what someone may need probably by a certain situation a person is in, and certain expressions on a person's face then that is communication, that is language. Sign language deals with using the fingers/hands/ pointing to objects to communicate between one and the other person. But what about mere facial expression? One of sadness that indicates to you that the child is unhappy? maybe he wants to play...etc.
    well, i am not an animal scientist and may not draw a conclusion with ample evidence but i have witnessed a situation where a dog just gave birth and was surrounded by the other dogs in the house in a corner of the garden. Then suddenly it started drizzling and the mother left her puppies to look around for a place to take her puppies. She came back and without making a sound, loooked at the other two dogs strait in the face...then suddenly they started picking up the puppies in their mouths and sent them to a part of the garden which had a shed made of dried grass. Then it occured to me that dogs do not only communicate by barking or squealing but maybe a facial expression that i did not catch, or by intuition, which i know some human beings believe in...

  53. On the quote cited by Mr Kitching: "Language is the skin of my thought" (Arundhati Roy)
    I found this very intriguing seeing as it was related to the topic of my TOK presentation: whether language shapes thought or vice versa.
    Let us take a systematic look at this - From the definition of language, it can be said to be symbolic. Relating this to animals, some animals demonstrate capacities for thinking (Chimpanzees and dolphins are generally accepted to be quite intelligent - for example, the common chimpanzee can use tools in order to achieve an end) - Does this imply they think without language? (Do they think in a vacuum?) According to the language of thought hypothesis, every individual human has his/her own unique mental language, formed by mentally categorizing the objects/ events they encounter in their lives. A question this raises, however is if this applies to animals, and if so, does it apply to ALL animals? From a linguistic point of view, animal communication may not be considered as language because the interaction between animals in such communication is often fundamentally different in its underlying principles from human language. However, certain experiments seem to suggest that SOME animals, at least, possess language for example, Karl von Frisch received the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his proof of the language and dialects of the bees. I however believe that without a firm distinction between communication and language, certain areas will definitely overlap.

  54. in my own definition language is any kinds of communication it may consist sound facial expression and other characteristic of language as long as a particular group of species understand each other so animals use sounds in order to communicate for example dogs will bark to show us something happen or to communicate with his specie so we should assume that animals has language.
    samuel M

  55. in my opinion, animals have their own language depending on the animal it is. hence, dogs will be able to understand other dogs, just as humans understand other humans. to me, the communication can be called a language as long as it serves its purpose which is to express your intentions or feelings across to the directed person. with this idea in mind, a painting will not be referred to as a form of language because with paintings, not only one idea is conveyed. People can have different feelings or ideas about one painting and these are some of the properties that give certain paintings their values. therefore, a painting can not be referred to as a form of language since there can be many expressions conveyed, not just one as language intends to convey.(it can also be said that written language has some ambiguous statements which may send across different meanings, however a painting ALWAYS gives across various meanings) With a form of language, only one meaning is to be conveyed so that one can understand another perfectly.

    to sum it up, i feel that language can simply be defined as a means by which certain specific meanings are communicated amongst people or animals.

  56. It's so interesting when we try to use language to define language itself but what other form can we use? Symbols?
    Anyway, instead of saying that all forms of communications are language why don't we rather put it this way, all languages are forms of communication. this way, i guess it would be easier to understand the whole concept about language.
    I also think that animals do have a language. The fact that we cannot understand their language or clearly provide adequate evidence to prove that they actually do have, doesn't mean that we should quickly jump into a conclusion that they don't have. If so they don't have a language, where is the evidence?
    As some of you may have keenly observed the ants, though they are tiny insects, whenever they meet they 'bump' their heads against each and none of them avoids this gesture of 'communication'. You wouldn't miss to find them again about three or four of them struggling to drag something into their hole. now, tell me how they are able to come together without communicating?
    Therefore, dogs too have a language but as Mr. Kidane as was asking wether they can speak in past tense or, we cannot determine that and at the same time, we cannot dismiss it just because we cannot understand their language. But if a dog can hide a bone somewhere and be able to go back for it even days later as Benjamin K was trying to say, what explanation can we give for that? maybe they can also speak in past tense who knows?
    How can we try to find similarities between dog's and human's language if at all we cannot understand the dog's? In a way, i think the level of vocabulary for certain dogs increases. In cases where dogs are trained and they can understand commands from their masters something that they aren't born with, doesn't it show that its vocabulary has increased?

  57. I think certain animals do have a language though it may not be as developed as that of humans. In the sense that certain feelings and messages cannot be readily conveyed due to the underdeveloped nature of their language. Information i picked up from Wikipedia shows that Vervet monkeys can make up to 10 different vocalizations, some of which represent certain warning signals when a specific predator comes around and causes them to devise a specific defense strategy. Here we realize that a conventionally accepted form of communication has been established between these species. Research has shown that the both the physical and cognitive development of a species greatly affects their linguistic capabilities and that at a certain point in the evolution of human beings due to their anatomy did not have what we would define today as a language and that they only communicated. Personally i think we as human beings have defined language within the borders of our own linguistic abilities. We are the species that have set a standard for what can and what cannot be defined as a language. I believe some animals do have a language however relative to our linguistic abilities it changes from a language to "communication". As long as a form of communication has been conventionally accepted by its speakers it I think it is a language. Visual Arts and paintings lend themselves to subjective interpretations and usually do not follow convention and therefore are not considered as languages. For Arundhati Roy's quotation "Language is the skin of my thought" I believe that it conveys the idea that language serves as a means by which we share our various experiences of the world and also make our ideas, emotions and thoughts, to some extent more palpable. In this case language is the physical manifestation of our thoughts, though not always a perfect one.

  58. Language is external thought.Animals have a language or how will they be able to communicate.How will they be able to interact. Maybe what they have is a form of communication or not language. Paintings is not a language but its just a way of communicaing the artists ideas and thoughts about a particular idea.

  59. Hence the definition of language should be externalized thought that doesn't include mutual silent understanding it should involve a system of words and symbols.

  60. I believe language is just a medium to convey thought. Thought is a raw form of feelings, ideas so it encompasses anything that may be said. So you cannot say what you cannot think of. I animals have a language which may actually even run across species. For example, a growling dog is angry or simply does not want to approached. A dog or a human can both infer this from a growl. We were able to know that we should not approach because the dog had expressed itself adequately.
    Kwesi Twum

  61. Language

    Well I personally think animals have some sort of language. Language is a means of communication and it comes in various forms, sounds, words and symbols. So even if animals don’t talk or write they still make sounds which a means by which they communicate to each other. So I would argue if someone ever told me that animals have no language because with the different forms of language animals indeed have a language. Animals mostly tend to use the sound form of language. It sounds in weird to when I hear or see some *human being saying that anything that communicates ideas and express emotions is a language. Then it may as well mean that we, humans too are a language to some extent because we do communicate ideas and express emotions. A painting may be carrying some features of language such as words and symbols that communicate a certain message, but this does not make it become a language. It is just a vector through which a message is communicated. Our description of language should be that “Language ¬¬¬¬¬is not vector for communicating, but a means of communication comprising of words, symbols and sounds.

    paul c bwalya

  62. With regard to painting, I believe that is more of expression than communication, though these two things seem to be almost one and the same thing. In my opinion, language is basically any way one party puts a message across to another, based on certain rules which allow this message to be understood/make sense.
    The reason why some may say animals do not have a language is because as humans, we simply do not understand it. If it so happens that we, humans, use signs to communicate in a particular language, that is our way of doing so, and if animals communicate using incoherent noises or actions (I speak hypothetically), that may also be their language. I don't think we should rule out animals having a language just because we may not understand it or be able to identify it.


  63. i think language should be defined as any means by which one conveys the the thoughts, feelings and emotions that one is feeling at that time or before that time to another person and/or animal in the past, present or future. if animals are able to do fulfill these criteria, then they can be said to have a language. Also if an artist is able to use a piece of art to perform these functions then the art piece can be communicating using some form of visual language.

  64. Language is defined as a method of communication within group of people either spoken or written and the use of words are in structural and conventional way. From the definition only people can have language, animals have a way of communication but they do not have language. For example if we put a six month baby and calf out of their community and make them not see their species. After five years the calf would produce same sound with the other but for the child he\she could not sound a word.
    For the case of painting it will not be always a language but if it is in a conventional way we can call it language.

    senework mekonnen

  65. I was re-reading the thread and just wanted to respond to what Paul said (4 posts above) and what Nnenna said earlier on in the thread.

    First of all, to Paul: you REALLY cannot say that "it may as well mean that we, humans too are a language to some extent because we do communicate ideas and express emotions"...what we do is USE something to do that communication and expression, which is LANGUAGE. You may have said that in jest but I just felt the need to make the correction.

    And about Nnenna's post (May 10, 2010 10:34 AM) - first of all, the example you gave about the snapping and hissy noises and your cat...the animal associates those sounds with a particular action. THAT'S how animals are usually trained. And I believe that you and your cat have agreed that when you do that, a certain action should follow. As such I believe THAT is the language you and your cat have resorted to. And all the barking and stuff you mentioned - yes, maybe sometimes they make those random noises but then what about bird calls and mating calls and all those things? From your post the impression that I'm getting is that communication is simply conveying an idea, and it's not necessarily supposed to be interpreted in a certain way, or by any specific person for that matter. But then with animals, they make certain noises for a purpose...I pretty much tale that as language, disregarding 'systematics'.

    Honestly, I think language just has to be an agreed form of communication. I think that agrees with what Metty was talking about, when she was distinguishing between "just communication" and language. I think the only thing which has been discussed here which pertains to "just communication" is painting.



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